The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) with funding and direction from Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) released a report that suggests 1 in 50 children has autism. Todays data comes from the National Survey of Children’s Health, a nationally-representative phone survey of households with children conducted every four years. The report, “Changes in Prevalence of Parent-Reported Autism Spectrum Disorder in School-Aged Children: 2007 to 2011-2012” is available at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs.
According to today’s NCHS report, in 2007 the prevalence of parent-reported ASD among children ages 6-17 was 1.2%; this rate increased to 2% in 2011-2012. The change in prevalence estimates over this five-year period was greatest for boys and for adolescents ages 14-17. According to the CDC much of the increase in the prevalence estimates for school-aged children was the result of diagnoses of children with previously unrecognized ASD.
The CDC-funded Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network report released in March 2012 showed an incidence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in 1 out of 88 children. These prevalence estimates are based on data collected from health and special education records of children living in 14 areas of the United States during 2008. The NCHS report and ADDM Network data are simply different tools used to examine the prevalence of ASD. The ADDM report last year found that autism prevalence increased 23% from data collected in 2007. Together, these tools help to provide a more complete picture of ASD prevalence and shed greater light on what parents and communities are experiencing. The next CDC report on ASD prevalence from the ADDM Network is expected to be published in 2014.
The numbers from the NCHS report and the ADDM Network are both striking, but we must remember that increases in prevalence demonstrates need that goes well beyond the individual. The impact of ASD affects the individual, their family, education and health care systems, government funding and our community as a whole. Regardless of why it has occurred, increased prevalence demonstrates the need for services and associated funding. The significant increase in incidence represents individuals and families facing tremendous stress, as well as significant strain placed on an already overextended service system.
We must educate the public and medical professionals to recognize signs of ASD. According to the CDC, an experienced professional can provide a reliable diagnosis as early as 24 months, but many children are not screened or given a final diagnosis until after 4 years old. If we improve families’ access to early screening and diagnostic services, lifetime costs (currently estimated to be $3.2 million per person) can be reduced by as much as two-thirds.
Mandated services provided through Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act end upon completion of high school, yet 60% of lifetime costs occur in adulthood. Reports from the National Center for Educational Statistics and the Department of Education show that only 43% of people with disabilities will graduate high school with a diploma. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities is 78.5%. There is significant disparity in the need for and the availability of publicly funded long-terms services and supports for people with disabilities resulting in waiting lists estimated to range from 80,000 to 200,000 nationwide.
Since 1965 the Autism Society has helped millions of people throughout their lifespan to focus on their needs today while empowering them to be prepared for what may come tomorrow. The results of these studies only enforces the need for a national commitment to provide adequate funding so that needed services and supports are available to those living with autism.